‘Big Game Howie’ helps Frogs stave off CWS elimination against Texas A&M

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Brian Howard toed the rubber for TCU in a College World Series elimination game against the Texas A&M Aggies and delivered one of the most memorable outings of his career in a 4-1 win.

And there has been a lot of memorable moments.

“Obviously the story of today was Brian Howard,” head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Big Game Howie, as he’s affectionately known in Fort Worth, showed up today.”

‘Big Game Howie’ did what ‘Big Game Howie’ does. Howard tossed seven innings and allowed just one run on five hits.

Tuesday’s outing moves Howard to 6-0 in 10 NCAA Tournament appearances in his career. He has a 1.87 ERA in 53 innings with 50 strikeouts.

“My teammates are putting me in the position to play in the postseason and then doing great things behind me and offensively,” Howard said. “It’s really my teammates going out there and doing what they do for me, playing great defense and putting runs on the board.”

Howard started the game by striking out six of the first seven batters to get through two scoreless innings. In the third, pitching with a 1-0 lead, Howard set down the Aggies in order.

When he went out for the fourth inning, TCU had opened the advantage to 4-0. Howard responded by continuing to dominate. The Aggies picked up a single but three easy outs, including his seventh strikeout, ended the inning.

As the Horned Frog bats cooled off, Howard continued to mow down the A&M hitters. Howard struck out two batters in both the fifth and sixth innings to give him his third double-digit strikeout performance in his four postseason starts this season. A couple hits allowed the Aggies to scratch a run across in the sixth, but Howard stranded a runner on third to keep the lead at 4-1.

“I’m not going to apologize for losing to [Howard],” Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress said. “That guy’s a really good pitcher.”

With his pitch count in check, Howard returned to the mound in the seventh and picked up his 12th strikeout in a scoreless frame to match his career high in punch outs. His previous 12 strikeout game was May 26 in the Big 12 Conference Tournament when he threw a complete game shutout against Kansas.

“I think today was probably the best stuff I had all season,” Howard said. “I’m pumped I didn’t walk anybody. I felt like I was attacking the strike zone from the beginning and I was able to carry that through.”

Howard allowed a leadoff double to George Janca in the eighth, leading Schlossnagle to bring in Sean Wymer from the bullpen. Two strikeouts and a groundout later, Wymer had the Frogs three outs away from staving off elimination.

Instead of going to the nation’s leader in saves, Durbin Feltman, Schlossnagle stuck with his most reliable reliever. Wymer set down A&M in order in the ninth to seal the 4-1 win and pick up his second save of the year.

Sean Wymer picks up his second save of the season. (Photo by Sam Bruton)

“It means a lot to see him go out there and do what he does and then finish the game for him,” Wymer said of getting to finish off Howard’s masterpiece. “It was pretty special.”

The TCU offense manufactured a run in the second when Nolan Brown blooped a double down the third baseline before two ground balls moved him home. Brown’s run was the first for TCU in over 10 innings in this year’s CWS as the Horned Frogs were shutout by Florida in the opener Sunday.

The third inning saw TCU grow its lead to four. Omaha native Ryan Merrill led off the inning with a long home run off A&M starter Stephen Kolek to the back wall of the right field bullpen.

Omaha native Ryan Merrill rounds the bases after a solo home run in his hometown. (Photo by Sam Bruton)

“As soon as I saw it leave, that’s when it just hit me how cool that experience is,” Merrill said. “I’m doing my best just to keep playing baseball with the group of guys that I’m sitting next to, so it was pretty incredible.”

After a hit batter, Evan Skoug roped a double into right center for the third TCU run. Skoug had gone down on strikes in four of his five plate appearances in Omaha before the RBI two-bagger. Skoug came around to score TCU’s final run of the day three batters later on a run-scoring single to right by Elliott Barzilli.

Kolek was pulled from the game after Barzilli’s hit, and Aggie reliever Kaylor Chafin entered. Chafin, who allowed one run in 6.1 innings against TCU in the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic March 4, shutdown TCU again. He held TCU scoreless over the final 5.1 innings, surrendering just three hits while walking none and striking out six.

“I treat it like every other game,” Chafin said of his successful outings against TCU. “I go out and try to do the best I can for my team and give them a chance to win, but it didn’t happen today.”

For Texas A&M, their improbable run as a regional three seed turned College World Series team was cut short after just two games in Omaha. For the third straight year, TCU eliminated A&M from the postseason. In both 2015 and 2016, the Horned Frogs won three-game Super Regionals against the Aggies.

For the Horned Frogs, a game two win keeps their fourth straight trip to Omaha alive. TCU will play the loser of Tuesday’s winner’s bracket game between Louisville and Florida on Thursday night at 7. TCU will need to win three games in three days to advance to its first College World Series championship series.

Schlossnagle has yet to announce a starting pitcher for Thursday’s game.

“It will either be Lodolo or Traver,” Schlossnagle said. “I want to think about it a little bit. Both those guys are tuned up and ready to go.”